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Americans' Concerns About Water Pollution Edge Up

Americans' Concerns About Water Pollution Edge Up
by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • Levels of worry tick up on six environmental issues
  • Worry about polluted drinking water highest, at 61%
  • Concerns about pollution of rivers, lakes up nine percentage points

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After declining last year, Americans' worries about several environmental issues ticked upward in 2016, and are now mostly back to 2014 levels. A majority express "a great deal" of concern about polluted drinking water (61%) and the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs (56%). These increases come as details surrounding the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, continue to emerge.

Americans' Concerns About Environmental Problems
I'm going to read you a list of environmental problems. As I read each one, please tell me if you personally worry about this problem a great deal, a fair amount, only a little or not at all.
A great deal, 2014% A great deal, 2015% A great deal, 2016%
Pollution of drinking water 60 55 61
Pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs 53 47 56
Air pollution 46 38 43
Extinction of plant and animal species 41 36 42
The loss of tropical rain forests 41 33 39
Global warming or climate change 34 32 37
Gallup Poll Social Series: Environment

Gallup's annual Environment survey, conducted March 2-6 this year, also documents the percentages of Americans who say they personally worry "a great deal" about air pollution (43%), the extinction of plant and animal species (42%), the loss of tropical rain forests (39%) and global warming or climate change (37%). The percentage saying they worry a great deal about each issue increased by five or more percentage points from last year, after each showed a decline from 2014 to 2015. Concerns about air pollution, climate change and the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs are similar to where they were in 2014, as are levels of concern regarding the other three issues.

Polluted drinking water and the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs have consistently topped Americans' concerns throughout Gallup's 27-year trend measuring these environmental issues. Climate change worries have regularly appeared at the bottom of the list.

From a longer-term perspective, the current percentages of Americans worrying a great deal about polluted drinking water and the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs are on the high end of figures recorded over the past 16 years, but remain below where they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

EnvironmentalWorries2

Democrats Worry More About Environmental Issues

In general, Americans' concerns about most environmental issues have receded from higher levels seen in the 1980s and 1990s, when a renewed sentiment of environmentalism prevailed.

Republicans, however, have consistently expressed less worry than Democrats about each of the environmental issues. This year, Democrats' levels of concern range from 71% worried about polluted drinking water to 47% worried about the loss of tropical rain forests. Among Republicans, levels of concern range from 48% worried about polluted drinking water to 18% worried about climate change.

While levels of concern among the two major parties stayed the same or declined from 2014 to 2015, they reverted this year to 2014 levels. Democrats' concerns about polluted drinking water and the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs are higher now than two years ago.

Americans' Concerns About Environmental Problems, by Political Party
% Worried a great deal
2014% 2015% 2016%
Democrats/Democratic leaners
Pollution of drinking water 67 64 71
Pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs 62 55 67
Air pollution 57 53 55
The loss of tropical rain forests 51 39 47
Extinction of plant and animal species 50 46 49
Global warming or climate change 53 52 53
Republicans/Republican leaners
Pollution of drinking water 50 43 48
Pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs 41 36 40
Air pollution 30 22 27
The loss of tropical rain forests 27 24 26
Extinction of plant and animal species 28 24 30
Global warming or climate change 16 13 18
Gallup Poll Social Series: Environment

Bottom Line

As details about the Flint water crisis emerge following a congressional hearing on the matter, Americans' concerns about water pollution are slightly higher than last year, but generally mirror trend averages. The Flint crisis may have simply underlined a recurring concern, given that worries about water pollution have appeared atop the public's environmental concern list in all previous years.

The 2016 presidential election shines a spotlight on these ecological issues -- and others such as climate change, carbon emissions and hydraulic fracturing -- by forcing candidates to address key policy decisions they would have to make as commander in chief. The viewpoints of their respective party's rank and file differ drastically, however, which complicates the next president's ability to alleviate the concerns of all Americans.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained data from a different question on climate change. This story has since been revised to reflect the climate change question in the environmental trend.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 2-6, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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